How to Make A Zero Budget Web Series

Posted April 18th, 2018 by Mark Ryan

Two SP members, Rebecca Boey and Joseph Brett, of Jackdaw Films completed their webseries Jade Dragon last year completely out of their own pocket. In this blog post, they explain how they achieved it and offer tips for any aspiring filmmakers looking to do the same. Over to Rebecca and Joseph…

We made our 19-episode comedy Jade Dragon, set in a Chinese takeaway, on zero budget. That’s not to say it didn’t cost us anything. Of course it did. It cost us our time, and time is precious. It also cost us the price of sandwiches and snacks for the actors. We chose to do a screening of the series at Whirled Cinema once it was made, which set us back £240 – we did that because we wanted to give something back to the people who worked with us for free, by throwing them a party and letting them experience their work on the big screen. That was our only real expense.


We wrote Jade Dragon as a single camera mockumentary, so we had written into the very fabric of our show a certain shoddiness – it didn’t have to be cinematic and beautiful, in fact a lo-fi look lent itself better to the story. It also meant that we didn’t have to light it. We were lucky that our director, who was also our DP, had his own camera and zoom so we didn’t need to hire anything. We shot our series on a DSLR (Sony A7S) but we could just as well have shot it on phones. If Steven Soderbergh can make a movie with iPhone footage, you can make a web series that way.

We knew before we started writing that our director/DP also worked as an after effects op, so we decided to go all out with the visual effects in episode 18 and have a huge crazy CGI scene. We loved the idea of this zero budget series having a great big expensive-looking episode. Actually it cost us nothing, just the director’s time. Not every team will have a whizz kid like Joseph on it, but find out what your collaborators can do or what they have access to, and make the most of that. Maybe your mate works at an ice rink and has after-hours access – set it there. Maybe you know someone whose aunt owns a horse and cart – write that in.



If you want amazing actors to work with you, you have to be offering them something.  You want them to work for you for free, and the only way that is going to happen is if they love your project and the role you’re offering them. Write three-dimensional characters with great dialogue and you’ll find actors will leap at the opportunity to play them. You’d be amazed at how much rubbish is out there and how many terrible scripts actors get sent. Don’t patronise them with promises of showreel and exposure. Send them a script they just can’t turn down. If you can cast on showreels and recommendations, that’s a plus – there are few things more off-putting than being invited to audition for an unpaid role. Offer to work around actors’ schedules as much as possible, and honour that. We had to rejig our shooting schedule for Jade Dragon almost every day because our actors had auditions to go to. It’s a headache but it’s not impossible and if you want good actors for no money, the cost is a bit of admin.



The fewer people involved, the cheaper, especially if you’re going to feed the people on set. We had a crew of two – the director, who was also DP and sound recordist, and the writer who quadrupled up as line producer, runner and actor. The two of us were there every day of the two-week shoot. The other actors dipped in and out when they were available. We rarely had more than five people on set at any one time, and we often scheduled it so that we shot one batch of actors in the morning and a second bunch in the afternoon. This had an added bonus – we didn’t have to provide lunch. On the odd occasions when we had a couple of actors for the whole day, we’d splash out and treat them to a proper lunch – burgers or noodles from nearby restaurants – and a year later they still talk about how great the catering was because those treats are all they remember.



We had to build a set for our final episode, so we pinched old doors and bits of wood and broken tiles out of skips and chucked it all together in our front room. It took two of us the whole weekend to do and in daylight the set was far from perfect – but we shot it in low light and only showed parts of it, and we’re really happy with the results.  Costumes were the actors’ own clothes. Props were bought and then returned, pristine and with receipts, to the shops that ‘lent’ them to us. Our costume and art department budget was exactly zero pounds.

If you want to make something for no money, you can. It would be lovely if we could all have funding for everything we do, and everyone could be paid what they’re worth, but that’s not always possible. Making a zero budget web series could be the thing that gets you on radars you would otherwise not show up on, and means you’re more likely to get funded in future.


Get out there and do it. Work with what you have access to, respect your actors, and be inventive. Good luck!


Jackdaw Films is Rebecca Boey and Joseph Brett.

Rebecca is a graduate of the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme and the BBC Writers Room London Voices group, and is represented by The Agency. Of half-Chinese descent, she is passionate about stories that put British East Asian narratives at their centre.  

Joseph is an award-winning film-maker and animator, whose work has been featured in Creative Review, Cool Hunting and It’s Nice That. He has shot and directed music videos for artists including Ezra Furman, Efterklang, The Leisure Society and Allo Darlin, as well as an animation for Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

After Jade Dragon, they made Sleep Tight, a series of horror shorts. They are currently in pre-production for a short film, White Wedding, a folk horror about four British Chinese women on a hen-do in the English countryside.

Watch Jade Dragon here

  1. Vic

    The food thing is REALLY important. FEED YOUR CAST. I did this for a non-profit music ensemble and ten years later the performers are still talking about it. Last summer we made a 3-minute short on the similar principle of work with what you’ve got or can borrow. In our case it was a Medieval French Chateau which also was a massive stroke of luck in being made of pale stone and therefore not needing much lighting. Total budget: 20 euros for a selfie-stick and a bottle of wine for the homeowner. Great to hear that you had a similar tale.

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